The most surprising of the six sitcoms in the ABC’s Comedy Showroom pilot season, for us, was Bleak, Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney’s show focusing on all-round loser Anna’s forced return to her weird family home. What surprised us most about Bleak was that it was such a contrast to their smash hit, The Katering Show. Allow us to explain…
The Katering Show showed its makers had a real understanding of the medium they were making comedy for: online. To keep viewers’ attentions on platforms like YouTube, narrative comedies need to be fast, and consistently really funny. The Kates achieved this in The Katering Show by throwing everything they had at it comedically; they didn’t just do gags about food trends and parodies of cooking shows, they gave their characters a solid dynamic (two frenemies on the edge of a breakdown) which they could exploit comically. It worked brilliantly.
But while the character dynamics in Bleak are equally well-drawn, particularly Anna’s parents and brother (how did they get to where they are in life?!), in the medium of a full-length sitcom, well, in this pilot at least, these well-drawn characters didn’t generate as many laughs as The Katering Show. Why? To answer that, let’s step back a bit…
The Comedy Showroom pilot Bleak wasn’t bad by any means – for us it was one of the better shows in this series – it’s just that we’d put it in the “could do better” category. Could it be that McLennan and McCartney’s strength is writing sketch rather than sitcom?
This theory is kind of borne out if you watch Bleak: The Web Series, the online predecessor to the Comedy Showroom pilot. Episode 1 (duration: 6:32) is basically a short version of that pilot, centered around Anna’s return to the family home, and her strained re-acquaintance with her parents and brother. It’s a pretty good short-form piece of comedy, and we think it really works.
Subsequent episodes in the web series go beyond what we saw in the ABC pilot, and we see Anna trying to party through the break-up with her boyfriend, and re-connecting with her odd family. In one very funny and strangely moving scene, Anna and her Dad bond over rodent control, and we discover why he’s so keen on documentaries about Nazi death camps.
Maybe the problem here is one of tone? It’s fine in sketch comedy if the tone is funny but unrelentingly dark, but in a half-hour sitcom there need to be some lighter scenes to break things up a bit. These were lacking in the half-hour version of Bleak.
As we said in our original review of the Comedy Showroom pilot:
this will have to become a lot funnier fairly quickly to justify taking this to a full series, but there are good indications that it could do so.
Based on it, and the web series, there’s definitely a lot of potential for this show. And if Jean Kittson and Shane Bourne can’t be in it, Denise Scott and Dennis Coad (who play Anna’s parents in the web series) would make brilliant parents. Fingers crossed we get to see more of Bleak.